Are men the cause of women’s problems?

Photo Credit: lucianvenutian
Photo Credit: lucianvenutian

I’m picking a relatively easy topic for this week, because I’m jet-lagged and tired and my brain is full of new ideas for research following the conference I came back from. There’s nothing easier than picking on something someone said and show how it makes no sense whatsoever. And one topic on which people say things that make no sense whatsoever is the “mommy wars”.

This is relatively old news, and I will admit that I have not read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” yet. But about a month ago Lisa Belkin wrote about a survey done by MORE magazine that asked people about their financial security and about their views of working and stay-at-home moms. The magazine (according to Lisa, I could not access the article itself) argues that one of the causes of the “mommy wars” is that men send mixed signals to women. Quoting Lisa Belkin:

A related root cause, the survey found, was men. Twenty percent of the sample was male, and they report conflicted views of working and stay-at-home mothers. The latter, they say, are “better mothers” who are “happier” and have “better behaved kids.” The former, on the other hand, deserve “more respect,” “work harder” and “have a more exciting life.” When men are “sending conflicting signals,” Seymour says, “it would follow that women are responding to them. And instead of talking to the men around us, we’re taking it out on each other.

Here’s what I think about this (and why it made me a little bit mad). First of all, having positive things to say about both working and stay-at-home moms is not “conflicting views”. It’s appreciation of all moms. Second, even if men were sending conflicting signals, from this survey it does not “follow that women are responding to them” – that’s called a hypothesis. And lastly, even assuming women respond to these positive conflicting messages, how does that explain working moms and stay-at-home moms criticizing each other? If anything, it would follow that we should have respect for women who chose a different life than we did.

I agree with the editor-in-chief of MORE magazine that we have to talk about the issues. But for us to talk about the issues, they have to be issues first. Blaming men for sending “conflicting messages” doesn’t encourage frank and open discussion; it just makes everyone build their defenses a bit higher. And this just turned from “mommy wars” to “gender wars” for no reason at all.

This week’s assignment: talk to your partner about how they view working and stay-at-home parents. Feel free to post updates here 🙂

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